While you can form an argument based on depth that 147 pounds is not boxing's best or most outright competitive division (168 and 140 have arguments), there's no doubt that the glamor, glitz and glory right now lies in the welterweight division.
It's because the top of the division is so spectacular. Pound-for-pound king cases Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. reside here, and then you also have "Sugar" Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Andre Berto and Joshua Clottey, forming a top six that is hard to match. After that, there's a huge drop in quality, though you could argue Luis Collazo belongs right alongside Joshua Clottey, I suppose.
The division will probably produce at least three of the year's biggest fights, maybe four. With Andre Berto set to battle Carlos Quintana tonight on HBO, everything's about to start clearing up. Where is this division headed for the rest of 2010? There are a lot of possibilities, so let's see if we can't chart the course(s) and see what's what.
If Mayweather beats Mosley and signs a fight with Manny Pacquiao...
Everything is great. The biggest fight in boxing would be on tap, probably the single most important fight in boxing in the last 30 years, at least since Leonard-Hearns I, the last time the two best fighters in the sport squared off. No matter how you slice it, Mayweather beating Mosley could be the biggest and most credited win of Floyd Jr.'s career, meaning he'd probably be white hot, while Pacquiao stayed even with a dominant win over Joshua Clottey on March 13. That might even their momentum a little bit, and with all the back-and-forth in the press that's gone on between Floyd and Manny already, you have a fight that I do believe would shatter the Floyd-Oscar PPV record.
But I don't think this will happen. I'm skeptical that they can ever come to terms.
If Mosley beats Mayweather...
There are a lot of things that could happen here. Mosley beating Mayweather most likely sets up a rematch. That is, if Floyd wants it. I'm not inside the man's head and I'm not pretending I am. But we have never seen Floyd Mayweather handle a loss. He's never suffered a loss. Bob Arum says a lot of things, but his armchair psychology telling him that Mayweather wouldn't be able to handle a loss in the ring isn't just one man's view. A lot of people who cover the sport and are inside the sport seriously doubt if Floyd's psyche could deal with a loss. This is a guy who's already retired three times -- he retired after beating Carlos Baldomir, retired after beating Oscar de la Hoya, retired after beating Ricky Hatton and bailing on a rematch with Oscar.
So were Mayweather to lose to Mosley, I think there's a decent chance he disappears again, at least for a while. But since that is pure speculation and something that hinges on Mayweather's personality more than anything else, let's just say that Floyd would exercise his rematch clause for late in the year. That's the most likely thing.
That would then leave Manny Pacquiao's dance card open. If Andre Berto beats Carlos Quintana, Berto is a viable opponent. He'd be 26-0, he's young, he's undefeated, he has the green belt. But that probably wouldn't happen. Top Rank would want to keep the money in-house.
Top Rank would probably then set up Pacquiao against Antonio Margarito at Cowboys Stadium, assuming Margarito wins his comeback fight in May. And there's another wrinkle that like it or not, we cannot ignore: Antonio Margarito is coming back to the sport, and if things play out as I fear they will, we'll see Pacquiao-Margarito later this year. I don't want it any more than a lot of people do, but Top Rank would be dumb to not do it if a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight wasn't the other option. They'd probably put 60,000 or so into the stadium in Arlington with that fight. It would be blockbuster money.
Now, let's go back briefly and say that Mosley beats Mayweather, and Floyd retires again. Mosley-Pacquiao then comes into play, too. And with Mosley having beaten Floyd, that would be a humongous PPV fight between a Mosley who would be at the highest point of his career and Pacquiao. It would also be a serious can't-miss fight. There's not a chance in hell that Mosley-Pacquiao isn't a good fight. Not a chance.
If Mayweather beats Mosley, but DOESN'T fight Pacquiao...
Again a decent chance that Floyd re-retires. Also heightens the probability of Pacquiao-Margarito even more. If Mayweather decided to keep fighting, I'd expect him to fight Andre Berto, tagging the fight as a mission to reclaim "his" WBC belt. Again, assuming that Berto beats Quintana tonight.
What other options would Mayweather have here? He fought once at 154, against Oscar de la Hoya, and while he won the fight I thought it was obvious that the weight was a bad place for him. He's not a big puncher, but at 147 he still has some pop. Against a 154-pound guy, I don't see him making much by way of dentage. Plus, there's just nobody at 154. Who's he going to fight, Paul Williams? Alfredo Angulo?
There would be Manny (which we're ruling out here), Berto, or ... nothing. You can count out Top Rank fighters Cotto, Clottey and Margarito, because Arum won't deal with Floyd. Plus, two of them would be Manny's sloppy seconds anyway, and at this point Mayweather-Cotto and Mayweather-Margarito have lost the luster they once had on paper.
The other option, realistically, would be one of the top 140-pound fighters coming up to fight Floyd. Timothy Bradley has a stern test on June 19 against Marcos Maidana, but I know if he wins he'd fight Mayweather in a heartbeat. Timothy Bradley isn't just talk. This guy is proving every time out that he wants to fight top guys. Devon Alexander could get a call he couldn't refuse (Don King negotiating with the Mayweather people would be "24/7"-worthy itself), and then there's the Khan-Malignaggi winner. I know Freddie Roach has very high hopes for Khan, but I don't think there's any way he puts Amir in with Floyd at the tender age of 23. That would run the risk of taking Amir Khan's confidence out back and pulling an Old Yeller on the kid's ego. There's just too good of a chance that Mayweather completely embarrasses Khan.
For the record, I know Paul Williams says he can make 147 pounds still. He's fighting Kermit Cintron on May 8 at 154. But while I think Mosley-Williams is possible, I do not see a chance that Mayweather or Manny mess with Tall Paul. It's not that they couldn't beat him, it's just that he's a huge risk with relatively minimal reward. Paul Williams is still a hardcore fan favorite more than he is someone who can sell a fight. I don't think it would be hard to market the big guy as a genuine threat and make him seem very menacing, but he should probably be counted out as a possible opponent for anyone.
There's a ton riding on the outcome of Mosley-Mayweather, obviously, and Andre Berto goes into tonight with a shot at putting himself into a mega money fight later this year. I think, sadly, we're all but assured of Pacquiao-Margarito, unless Margarito loses his return fight, which is not out of the question.
The problem with a top-heavy division like this when it comes to making fights is that the viable options become so limited. The tease of the Mayweather-Pacquiao mega-fight also has a hand in making almost anything else those two do this year seem like some sort of consolation prize, even the Mosley-Mayweather fight, which should be something we revel in because it's been so desired for so long.
But it's Mayweather-Pacquiao. At the end of the day, the biggest fight in boxing remains Mayweather-Pacquiao, and nothing else is really an acceptable "replacement." But Floyd and Manny will continue to sell fights for as long as they want to, in part because of that outside shot, that glimmer in the boxing fan's eye that next time, they'll get it on.